What is the Joe Rogan controversy? Should Spotify censor Rogan? Evan Thomas investigates.
It’s not controversial to say that you shouldn’t take medical advice from Joe Rogan. He’d probably agree with that. Enjoy him as a UFC fighter, comedian and rubbish-talker, not a health expert. He may host the largest podcast in the world, but his show takes the format of multi-hour, generally non-confrontational conversations with guests from across the political spectrum. These can range from genuinely enlightening to brain-numbingly daft.
He does push back on guests occasionally, but usually he’s there to facilitate the narrative set by his guest. This certainly is a valid interview technique. It’s a great way to allow certain guests, who might usually receive a more hostile welcome from other outlets, to open up. His guest’s message is amplified by Rogan’s approving nods and “woahs”. Depending on your ideology, and the guest in question, that can either be a great or terrible thing. Rogan’s podcast has the potential to be both a pipeline out of, and to, certain ideologies, but that’s dependent on the balance of guests he hosts. Recently, that balance has been out of whack, particularly when concerning the COVID-19 vaccine.
The word “misinformation” is distinguished from “disinformation” as the former can be distributed without malintent. I do not believe that Rogan is guilty of the latter. That being said, it can reasonably be ascertained that certain snippets, and entire interviews, with some guests, could lead his audience to some degree of vaccine hesitancy. He’s hosted Dr. Robert Malone, whose work as a vaccine scientist gives him an air of legitimacy, but he’s also incorrectly claimed that the COVID mRNA vaccines do not work. And Rogan himself infamously told young people there’s no point in taking the vaccine.
The proposed solution to this information: encourage Spotify to cancel their contract with Rogan and/or remove the offending episodes. Whether this amounts to censorship is hotly debated. Arguably, the only country in the world that has real freedom of speech is the USA, but even the First Amendment is no longer fit for the scope our modern world requires. As we continue to disconnect from our physical surroundings and prepare to plug into the dystopian matrix, the ability to freely communicate in digital spaces becomes increasingly important.
If we want to protect any semblance of free speech, large platforms must be brought to heel and made to enforce a strict interpretation of the First Amendment.
Yes, Spotify is a privately-owned platform. Rogan is not owed a megaphone more than any other individual. However, both people who agree and disagree with his views, and methods, do want to hear from him. This is where certain libertarians falter in their pursuit of free speech. To pretend that tyranny is only wielded by governments, and not also by the monopolies who those governments represent, is incredibly short-sighted.
If we want to protect any semblance of free speech, large platforms must be brought to heel and made to enforce a strict interpretation of the First Amendment. Book-burning, “think of the children” zealots never went away, but with this private company defence, they have a new opportunity to flourish and destroy our landscape of free discourse.
We should also remember that these calls to censor alternative media often come from mainstream outlets, who have propagated some pretty heinous conspiracy themselves. Let’s not forget when countless outlets, including The New Yorker, CNN and MSNBC, manufactured public consent for the Iraq War. They have huge journalistic teams too, and their reporting doesn’t come with Rogan’s disclaimer that “I’m a f***ing moron”. The idea that so-called “legitimate” outlets have any business being fact-checkers is absurd.
There’s a much messier, but also, in the long run, stronger, solution to addressing misinformation – combating it with correct information. Removing speech can have the effect of sending devotees underground, radicalising them within their echo chamber of lethal cringe. Strategically flooding the airwaves with genuine answers to people’s concerns and rebutting harmful information in an un-sneering way may seem idealistic, but it’s the best option for a society that wants to remain free. When there’s so little trust in the government or media, no question can be treated as stupid. Rogan has shown he’s open-minded enough to talk to pro-vax scientists, such as Sanjay Gupta, too. All it takes is an interesting conversation with a friendly face. Let’s communicate the benefits of vaccines with reason, compassion and understanding, not a heavy-handed ban hammer.